SquareSpace Considered

squarespace_logo SquareSpace has been getting a lot of publicity in most tech podcasts I listen to. It had the feel of an orchestrated publicity campaign so I didn’t pay much attention to the hype and ignored it for awhile. But the thought of having a hosted website along with the ability to extensively customize the site made me decide to take a look at it, so I signed up for their free 14 day trial. The bottom line, there’s a lot to like but I won’t be moving any existing sites to it.

I started off reviewing Squarespace by looking at things that were important to me but were lacking in most hosted website solutions.

  • Ease of importing an existing site
  • Ability to do my own backups and ease of moving the site to another host
  • Ability to customize extensively (add java scripts, html code, etc…)

SquareSpace does better than other hosted solutions (WordPress.com, Blogger, etc…) in these areas but it just wasn’t quit up to what I wanted. In short, I didn’t like the loss of control. Of course, to others this isn’t a problem at all.

Importing an Existing Site

SquareSpace provides the ability to import a WordPress blog along with Blogger, Moveable Type and TypePad. WordPress and Blogger can be imported over the wire, the others need to be exported to a file then imported. WordPress can also be imported via a file exported from WordPress.

I tried importing this site but received an error both when importing over the web and from a file. So I used another one of my sites (much smaller) which imported fine over the web.

The import took all the posts and moved all the graphics hosted on the site over to SquareSpace. Since the URLs changed I opened a support ticket to see if there was a way to maintain the old URL structure. Here was the response:

The Web importer preserves old permalinks within our system. Even though we save a user’s journal entries under a new, Squarespace specific URL, any requests for their old permalinks will be redirected properly (301 Permanently Moved) to the new Squarespace URL location. This should preserve your existing PageRank and any other google/search engine juice you’ve accumulated over time. Even though your old urls are not displayed in the browser URL bar, we are still redirecting your old traffic properly.
This will work when you map your own domain to your Squarespace account.

I never moved my domain to SquareSpace but it does seem like the URLs would redirect properly if I did. Along these line, internal links within posts were properly redirected to the new SquareSpace URL.

What was a bit of a problem was that the static pages were not imported. They would have to be moved over one by one. Also, my tags were not imported (categories were).

Ability To Do My Own Backups and Move Site Out

This is where SquareSpace falls short for me. While SquareSpace itself seems to have a solid backup regimen with real time backups to standby servers and periodic offsite backups there’s no good ability to create my own backups.

I can create a Text Snapshot which contains the structure in a XML file although the ability to use this to another system depends on the other system. This export can not be used to restore a SquareSpace site or import into another site. The Journal module (blog) can also export it’s data to a Moveable Type format which some other systems can use to import. Both of these must be done manually.

This is really no worse than other hosted platforms like WordPress.com or Blogger, but I like the ability automate backups and have the results in my possession. Moving from one CMS platform to another is never easy but some of the hype around SquareSpace implied you could get your site out as easy as put it in. While SquareSpace makes it about as easy as they can to get data out, it’s no magic bullet. There will be considerable work moving from SquareSpace to another platform.

Ability To Customize Extensively

Here’s were SquareSpace excels over other hosted platforms. There are extensive configuration settings for the various modules. So many, that it can be a bit overwhelming and not always intuitive trying to figure out what each one does. To help with that there’s support videos along with a good online manual.

All the site configuration and design, along with the the actual content creation is all WYSIWYG and done online. If the WYSIWYG editor doesn’t give you enough control you can also replace or tweak the CSS.

I didn’t spend too much time playing with the design tools since I’d already decided SquareSpace wasn’t for me at this point in time. As with most WYSIWYG editors you may run into some limitations if your looking for a specific design, but it certainly seemed robust. I did have a couple problems with the editor. Once the screen locked up on an edit page while inserting a script, in another case the settings dialog stopped taking input in many fields. In both cases canceling and repeating the action resolved the problem. I was impressed with speed of the editor despite being all online and extensive use of ajax.

Summary

Pros

  • Hosted by SquareSpace – no software for you to maintain
  • Hosted on grid computers – your site does have limits based on your plan, but if the site gets dug or slashdot’d it will handle the traffic.
  • Reasonable and Tiered pricing structure so you only pay for the features you need.
  • Extensive analytics included and supports rss feeds.
  • Moving an existing blog is simple 

Cons

  • Hosted by SquareSpace – Yup, it’s also a “pro”, depends on your point of view. You do give up control.
  • If you want a truly unique, complex or specific design it requires HTML and CSS knowledge or the hiring of someone who can do it.
  • In my opinion the ease of use has been over-hyped. While it is easy to use at the basic level so are the free solutions. Once you get past a basic blog and built-in templates the interface and options take some getting used to.

SquareSpace does cost, unlike WordPress.com or Blogger. The prices seem reasonable for what you get. The question is, are those features worth it to you? Plans range from $8 – $50 although you can get a discount code at many tech podcasts these days and there are discounts for multiple sites. You’ll need the $14 account of you want to map it to your own domain name. You can sign up for a free 14 day trial, no credit card needed. If you don’t buy a plan after 14 days they just drop your account.